NHS Failures & the Need to Stop Further Decline

As a solicitor working in the field of clinical negligence I was inspired to write after reading a very chilling article by Tim Rayment in this week’s Sunday Times Magazine entitled “The Killing Wards”. The article focused on the recently publicised failures at Stafford Hospital where in just two years, 400 patients have died unexpectedly.  A recent Public Enquiry asks why commissioning, supervisory and regulatory bodies failed to notice serious problems in one small trust.  Incredibly in 2008 they were awarded a trust foundation status which is supposed to be confirmation of sound management, but at the same time another bureaucratic body was looking into the excessive amount of deaths at the hospital.  Incidents  and complaints range from failure to diagnose and treat life threatening conditions to patients being left to sit in their own excrement for over an hour.  Regulators relied upon self assessments by the Trust but nobody listened to the patients and their families.

In my work I come across similar stories all the time from a number of hospitals across the country. Last month the Care Quality Commission revealed that three of the 12 hospitals it visited in spot checks were breaking the law by not providing basic care. Time and time again I hear phrases such as:- “..we kept telling the doctors but they didn’t seem to listen” and “.. she was just left on a trolley in the corridor” and “we kept telling the nurses that Dad didn’t behave like this normally”.  I don’t doubt that most of the staff are devoted and doing their level best to provide good care, but the aspect which jumps out of most of my cases is that there is no time or money or resources to stop and look at the individual patient’s symptoms and needs “in the round”. Like most of my clients I want lessons to be learned from the unnecessary injuries and tragedies that have befallen them and I therefore regularly submit articles about my cases to publications read by lawyers in the health care field, and clinicians to try and assist the learning process.

Like many Englishmen, I am proud of the NHS and the values it represents but there are now aspects I am ashamed of.  Cuts are an economic reality at the moment, but I consider we should not compromise patient care, and where it does occur everything should be done to ensure it won’t be repeated and re-establish good practices. What worries me even more are the cover ups which are becoming more frequent because of political pressure.  I agree with the author of the article, Tim Rayment, when he says that if his mother was going into hospital tomorrow he wouldn’t be as interested in the mortality rates in the hospital but rather the data on pressure sores, the wound infection rate for a particular surgical procedure and a constantly updated survey rating the satisfaction of patients and relatives.